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Ectopic Pregnancy: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

 June 2nd, 2024

When you’re on a journey to start or expand your family, you hope for a smooth and joyful experience. That moment when your pregnancy test comes back positive is magical and life-changing.

But sometimes, unexpected complications like an ectopic pregnancy can arise. If you’ve been diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy or suspect you might have one, it’s natural to feel worried and unsure about what’s happening inside your body.

So in this guide, we’ll cover the symptoms, causes, and treatment options available for ectopic pregnancy. Understanding these factors can help you navigate this challenging situation confidently and take the right steps toward your health and future fertility.

What is an Ectopic Pregnancy?

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants and begins to grow outside the uterus’s main cavity. The most common location for an ectopic pregnancy is within the fallopian tubes, which is why it’s often called a tubal pregnancy. 

However, an ectopic pregnancy can also occur in other areas such as:

  • Ovaries (Ovarian ectopic pregnancy)
  • Abdominal cavity
  • Cervix

These areas don’t have the necessary structure and environment to support the growing embryo, leading to serious complications. 

Risk Factors and Causes

Understanding the causes and risk factors of ectopic pregnancy can help you identify potential risk factors and seek appropriate care early. While any woman can experience ectopic pregnancies, certain conditions and behaviors increase the likelihood.

Here are some common causes:

  • Previous ectopic pregnancy: If you’ve had an ectopic pregnancy before, your risk of having another one is higher. The underlying issues that caused the first one might still be present.
  • Infection or inflammation: Conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), often caused by sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea or chlamydia, can damage your fallopian tubes and prevent the egg from traveling to the uterus.
  • Structural abnormalities: Congenital anomalies or damage to the fallopian tube from infections or surgery can lead to narrowing or blockages, causing the fertilized egg to implant outside the uterus.
  • Age: Women aged 35 and older are at a higher risk for ectopic pregnancies due to changes in reproductive health and potential underlying conditions that can affect the fallopian tubes.
  • Smoking: Smoking can increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy by damaging the fallopian tubes and affecting their functionality.

Symptoms of an Ectopic Pregnancy

It’s understandable to feel anxious when something doesn’t feel right during your pregnancy journey. Knowing what to look for can help you seek timely medical attention and prevent complications. Some common symptoms of ectopic pregnancies you should be aware of include:

  • Light vaginal bleeding
  • Abdominal, pelvic, and lower back pain
  • Weakness or dizziness

In more severe cases, an ectopic pregnancy can cause life-threatening symptoms that require immediate medical attention. Some signs include:

  • Heavy vaginal bleeding
  • Shoulder pain
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Fainting
  • Painful urination or bowel movements

You may feel a sudden, sharp pain in your lower abdomen when a tube bursts. This is a serious emergency, so contact your healthcare provider or go to the emergency room immediately.

Ectopic Pregnancy Diagnosis

If you’re experiencing these concerning symptoms, your healthcare provider will use several methods to determine if they’re caused by an ectopic pregnancy:

  • Ultrasound exam: This is usually the first step in which your healthcare provider performs a transvaginal ultrasound to visualize the reproductive organs. This helps identify if the gestational sac is outside the uterus—a clear sign of an ectopic pregnancy.
  • Urine test: A urine test checks for the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), also known as the pregnancy hormone. 
  • Blood test: A blood test measures the levels of hCG in your blood. Since pregnancy raises this hormone’s levels substantially, low levels would indicate that you may be experiencing an ectopic pregnancy.

Diagnosing an ectopic pregnancy early is essential to ensure you get the appropriate care and treatment before it gets too severe. If left untreated, the growing tissue can cause life-threatening bleeding. Ectopic pregnancies are rare but serious, so you should seek immediate medical attention if you notice any related symptoms.

A nurse taking an ultrasound of a pregnant woman

Treatment Options for Ectopic Pregnancy

Facing an ectopic pregnancy can be frightening and painful, but all hope isn’t lost. Effective treatment options are available to keep you safe and preserve your future fertility. While the news can be overwhelming, knowing that there are ways to address the condition can bring some relief and hope. 


Methotrexate is a medication commonly used to treat ectopic pregnancies in their early stages before the fallopian tube ruptures. It works by stopping the growth of rapidly dividing cells like those of the developing embryo. This allows your body to absorb the pregnancy tissues over time without needing surgical intervention.

Your healthcare provider will calculate the appropriate dose based on your body surface area and inject it in the office. After the injection, you’ll need to have regular follow-up blood tests to monitor your hCG levels. They should gradually decrease, indicating that your body is absorbing the pregnancy tissue.

Certain substances can interfere with methotrexate’s effectiveness, such as:

  • Alcohol
  • Folic acid supplements
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

So you need to avoid them during treatment.


Surgery is often indicated if:

  • The pregnancy is further along.
  • You’re experiencing severe symptoms.
  • The fallopian tube has ruptured.

There are two main types of surgical procedures to treat ectopic pregnancy: laparoscopic surgery and laparotomy.

Laparoscopic surgery is the most common and popular method. It involves making small incisions in the abdomen and inserting a laparoscope—a thin, flexible tube with a camera—and surgical instruments in it. The surgeon can remove the ectopic pregnancy tissues while preserving the fallopian tube if possible. It’s a minimally invasive approach that typically results in less pain, smaller scars, and faster recovery times compared to open surgery.

A laparotomy may be necessary in more severe cases where the fallopian tube ruptures or there is significant bleeding. This is an open surgical procedure in which a larger incision is made in the abdomen to allow the surgeon to access and repair the area.

A laparotomy may result in emergency surgery called a tubal ligation, which is commonly known as “having your tube tied”. While this approach is more invasive and involves a longer recovery period, it’s sometimes the only viable option to manage life-threatening complications from an ectopic pregnancy.

Both approaches are effective in treating ectopic pregnancy and preventing further health risks. Your doctor will decide the best approach based on your specific situation so your health and future fertility are both prioritized.

Protect Your Fertility with Fertility Specialists of Texas

Experiencing an ectopic pregnancy can be one of the most challenging and scary moments on your fertility journey. It makes you feel uncertain and anxious, but you don’t have to face it alone. 

Fertility Specialists of Texas is here for you. We’re dedicated to providing you with the support and personalized care you need during this difficult time. Our team of experienced, compassionate professionals is here to guide you through each step, offering advanced treatments and heartfelt support to help you achieve your dream of parenthood.

Whether you need immediate care for an ectopic pregnancy or are planning for your future family, our Dallas-Fort Worth fertility clinic is equipped with the latest technologies and compassionate expertise to help you. Contact us to start your journey today.

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